And as far as strategies go, I don't believe there can be only one particular formula or strategy for recruiting success because so many variables are involved in the process. There are basic things that all successful programs do. Each school has a different set of resources to work with and to market from, and therefore will sell their program accordingly. Each program has different personnel needs from year to year too. To me the programs that have limited resources – namely facilities - have to have the best salesmen as recruiters. They have to sell a vision and the strategy to achieve it. These programs have to "outwork" the bigger programs – they have to evaluate guys that project upside through development. Development is a word that's key to this discussion because that's how programs that are building can turn it all around. The big time BCS schools get a lot of credit for their ability to recruit. To me the guys that have to identify potential – and then develop it – are the recruiters worthy of recognition. The Rice coaching staff is just such a group. The definition of recruiting success therefore varies – if you're the Texas Longhorns it's easy: "Okay guys, if you are 4 Stars or better answer the phone when we call. Grades? We'll take care of that with our academic programs. Just don't commit to OU or A&M." If you're Rice it's more a combination of intelligence, athleticism, character, finding potential – and developing it.
Do rankings matter?
Rankings get knocked a lot because there's always going to be players that have a world of athleticism and talent but end up not using it for one reason or another. Rankings (to me) calculate margin for error more than anything else. There is a certain degree of risk involved with taking any player into your program. The higher ranked players usually have "measurables" that suggest they will develop into good college players. For example, an OL who is 6-5 290, runs a 4.9 forty and benches 400 pounds will surely be ranked highly on potential alone. With those "measurables" he's seen as a lower risk candidate, which means he doesn't have as much developing to do – thus a higher ranking. So rankings aren't so much a guarantee, but perhaps a measure of where the player is from a developmental perspective at that given time. Big Time U can pile up the 4 and 5 star players and in their mind reduce margin for error in that player's development. Conclusion: Rankings matter most if your program doesn't develop players well.
Recruiting Potential and Football IQ – and Developing It
Sometimes a kid doesn't time real well but dominates when the lights come on. Sometimes a kid is undersized on defense but is always in on the tackle. He's not blazing fast but he's always open because of the routes he runs. The NFL is actually dotted with these types of guys. A lot of programs won't look at these guys because it places a lot of pressure on the development process. Obviously there are no guarantees. When these players graduated high school they didn't necessarily have the measurables colleges were looking for – but they had enough potential and or Football IQ for someone to take a chance on them and develop it. Why do you think we placed such a high value on retaining Yancy Thigpen? The answer is because he's a key figure in our development of players. This is why teams recruit players – not stars. A lot of coaches don't know how many stars a kid has by his name – but they do know a player they like when they see one.
Here's my take on strategy for Rice recruiting – of course coaches' opinions are the ones that really count but just for discussion here goes:
Recruit guys who have potential at multiple positions. I like tight ends that can play defensive end. Any time a guy is a good deep snapper that's a plus. Wide receivers that play cornerback and return punts and kicks are also good. I like running backs that play linebacker, and any team's quarterback is usually pretty talented. This is something Ken Hatfield really believed too.
Recruit locally, but not only locally
Recruit guys who play multiple sports besides football – especially wrestling, basketball and track.
Use connections - current players usually know the underclassmen at their high schools. Of course family ties are great too (Q Smith, Tyler Smith). Relationships are such a big part of recruiting success. Coaches help coaches they like. David Bailiff is thought of as a good guy in the Texas high school coaching community - this will pay off. How do you think we got a kid from Canada months after signing day to come to Houston, Texas to play football? Darrell Patterson had a relationship with a coach from his playing days in the CFL...
Start early, the big programs have "junior" days in the spring before a player has even started his senior season. In years past we've waited as late as December to extend scholarships. Sure sometimes the "late bloomers" turn out to great (Andrew Sendejo) but if you rely too
Put a lot of "offers" out. The stud chips won't come if you don't show you're interested. Take a flyer on these guys and who knows what might happen. Don't recruit or offer them at all and you'll never find out. Injuries happen, sometimes the BCS guys back off. You have to be in the car to ever drive it.
Have at least one "ace recruiter" on the staff. Let's face it; some coaches have better personalities than others. Craig Naivar has done well in gaining commits for the 2008 class.
Measurables matter to an extent. Some guys are workout warriors but can't play a lick. Measurables are what drives recruiting rankings -again it's a degree of risk. If a RB is 6-1 200 pounds and runs a 4.4 then there's a higher degree of probability - and thus much lower risk - that he will be a productive at a high level as a college back than say a player who is 180 and runs 4.65. The second player will have to grow a lot and get faster – something that doesn't always happen – to likely be productive at a high level in college. I look at the explosion and quickness numbers, (vertical leap and shuttle) then 40 times for most players. Here's an example, if a cornerback has a 36" vertical, a shuttle of less than 4.1, but runs a 4.55 40 yard dash I still would look at him because the first two often show natural ability – and with athletic gifts to work with he can get faster with Yancy...
The size of the school doesn't matter as much as maybe it once did. Here's why. All-Star Games like the Army All-American Bowl, which includes a Scout.com Combine, the internet, and multiple other camps it's hard to believe that no one has found out about that diamond in the rough 2A player. 10-15 years ago I think you could "mine" these players and find some really good ones. Now I really believe that if a player is good - the secret won't last long. Still, you can't leave any stone unturned.
Tomorrow Part 2 - Player and Position Profiles